Summit County says Wells Fargo illegally sold disputed property to Hideout developers

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The town of Hideout is trying to annex open space on the outskirts of Park City near Richardson Flat, Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

Summit County is alleging that the would-be developers of a controversial annexation proposal engaged in more schemes and unlawfully acquired disputed property with the help of Wells Fargo Bank.

At the heart of the issue is a large swath of land called Richardson Flat nestled between Park City and the Town of Hideout in Wasatch County. The property was part of a United Park City Mines Company (UPCM) operation. It’s now a Superfund site due to mine tailings and toxic heavy metals spread throughout the area. Developers Nate Brockbank and Josh Romney want to build a dense commercial and residential community on portions of the property that are not part of the cleanup effort. Summit County’s General Plan zones the area for limited development.

Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune

The Hideout Town Council worked with the developers in an attempt to annex the land across county lines so the town can grow its tax base and have more amenities. Summit County is currently suing the town and developers in an attempt to block the annexation.

In a separate lawsuit filed in 3rd District Court late last week, Summit County has also pulled Wells Fargo into the fray. The county attorneys say the bank worked with Brockbank to carve out large chunks of UPCM’s property, then foreclose on them so the developers could acquire them, all behind Summit County’s back.

“We believe that UPCM is still the owner because the foreclosure sale and deeds produced are illegal,” said Summit County Manager Tom Fisher.

The county’s legal complaint says that in November 2019, Brockbank and Wells Fargo attorney Wade Budge met with the county to discuss two UPCM parcels, SS-87 and SS-88, floating the idea of leaving out a portion that contained an active hazardous waste cleanup, then conducting a foreclosure sale on the rest. The county says it informed the developer and bank that doing so would create an illegal subdivision.

“Brockbank was in the same meeting where Wells Fargo ... [was] told by our attorneys office that subdividing through a foreclosure sale is illegal,” Fisher said.

The bank went ahead, getting a court order for foreclosure on portions of the parcels a few days later. Brockbank, using the company name “RB 248 LLC”, acquired the properties for $8.55 million through an auction on Feb. 22, a deed document shows.

The parcel portions include 244 acres.

Wells Fargo typically went through the Summit County sheriff to conduct foreclosure sales over the past five years, the county claims. But in this case, it used Justin Lampropoulos, a deputy constable from the Wasatch Front.

“It’s highly unusual the way this constable was used for this process,” Fisher said, arguing that the process was also illegal since the county has not authorized any constables to conduct foreclosure sales.

Budge, the Wells Fargo attorney, had not provided a statement as of Tuesday evening. A spokesperson for Wells Fargo declined to comment on the case.

Bruce Baird, an attorney for the developers, said Summit County’s claims are “utterly without any legal merit.”

“Summit County is simply not telling the truth,” Baird said. “They’re making stuff up.”

On Aug. 21, Summit County Community Development Director Patrick Putt sent an inquiry to Wells Fargo and UPCM about the subdivided parcels. Days later, Brockbank filed his constable’s deed with the county recorder — five months after he bought it. The same day, Brockbank transferred ownership of the properties from one of his corporate entities, “RB 248 LLC”, to another, called “NB 248 LLC,” according to the legal complaint.

The county called those actions “a continuing effort to obfuscate their actions and create confusion as to ownership.”

Fisher said the county believes Brockbank waited to file his deed with the recorder because he didn’t want to tip off the county about Hideout’s annexation plans. He also noted that even though the deed has been recorded, it doesn’t make the sale legal.

“The recorder cannot and does not make that determination,” Fisher said.

Baird defended his client’s actions as normal.

“It’s completely innocent, it’s how corporations do it all the time,” Baird said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued UPCM last year to recover nearly $850,000 in cleanup costs at Richardson Flat. The county estimates it will take $50 million to clean the entire Richardson Flat Tailings Superfund site and that remediation depends on future proceeds of valuable properties like the ones Wells Fargo sold to Brockbank.

“This guts the EPA’s ability to seize [the parcel] and obtain the proceeds of its sale for the purpose of environmental clean-up and remediation,” the county wrote in its complaint, “leaving the taxpayers of Summit County holding the ’proverbial bag’ ...”

The county has requested an expedited temporary restraining order and injunctions against the developers. Judge Richard Mrazik will hold a hearing on the restraining order on Sept. 9.

Update, 8:36 a.m. Sept. 2, 2020: This story has been updated to clarify Summit County’s zoning status for Richardson Flat and to include a response from a Wells Fargo spokesperson.